November 5, 2017

All Saints’ Day, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer

Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you.  Amen.

In the last few weeks, social media news feeds have blown up with messages that say, “#Me Too[i].” As news broke of Harvey Weinstein’s history, sexually abusing and harassing numerous women who had hoped to work in one of his movies, more and more women from across the entertainment world, from news media outlets, from congress and commerce, including farm workers, and women from every other walk of life, even among my own group of friends and connections, including too many of you, admitted that they had also experienced sexual abuse, harassment or assault. “Me too.” “Me too.” “Me too.”

The first stories were discouraging. But it quickly became plain heartbreaking to hear the accounts. One woman after the next described how she too was pressured by a partner, abused by a teacher, molested by a member of her family, harassed by a superior at work, even fondled by someone in her church.

Some of the actions of their predators might be excused as simply ignorant or inappropriate, but many of the deeds described by these women are much more serious, criminal behavior which has gone on for years. Sometimes when perpetrators were confronted with their conduct, they apologized and tried to make amends. But far too many of them were said to have brushed off their offenses, claimed the victims were simply overreacting, pretended to have no memory of the violation, or laughed it off as a childish prank. Each of those forms of denial only exacerbates the pain that the original affront caused, leading the injured to take on not only the insult, but the blame as well.

Nothing is new about sexual assault. Page through the scriptures with me, and I’ll show you matriarch after prophet after peasant woman, who could add her name to the #Me Too list.

What’s new, or what I at least find hopeful about the current recitation of these women’s stories, is that we’re finding the courage to discuss them out loud. Rather than keep silent and swallow the shame of “allowing” someone to hurt them, more and more of these Me Too sisters are feeling emboldened to name their pain, share their hurt with others, and come out of the shadows. Rather than allowing their offenders to claim some sort of conquest or power over them, the women are declaring their stance as survivors, no longer willing to accept responsibility for another’s violation of their role.

Maya Angelou once said, “I can be changed by what has happened to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it[ii].” I believe the women who are posting Me Too messages, are joining her song. Blessed are those who are persecuted, Jesus says, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What’s also a tiny bit encouraging in this latest round of revelations are the number of men who admit their own place of privilege in these situations. Obviously not all men are predators, and I know many who are equally horrified by the accounts we’ve been hearing.

But men and boys in our society have been too frequently taught to discount the pain that harassment causes, and to simply ignore or laugh with friends who boast about their breach of conduct. A culture that treats women as objects, that overly sexualizes girls from an early age, and that portrays the female body as one that can be controlled and conquered is not healthy for men or for women. And at least a few men are admitting that part of the story, too. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Jesus sings, for they will be filled.

The power of naming our brokenness is at the heart of All Saints Day. On this day, we remember those who have gone before us, and count them among the Saints of God. We call them saints not because they were perfect or blameless, but because they are beloved by God, and like us, are promised a place in God’s eternal story. We light a candle today in their honor, remembering the flame that was presented to them at their baptism, when they set sail on the waters of grace, and were given such love that they too could be called, Children of God.

The saints who gathered around Jesus on the mountain in today’s reading were not perfect or blameless either. In fact, in their society, they were most likely belittled and ostracized. We usually overlook the verses right before our beloved passage of Beatitudes, but the group that had been brought to Jesus that day were not the fit or finest. Here’s how Matthew’s gospel describes them, “all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics[iii].” These were people broken in body, mind, and spirit, and it is to them Jesus proclaims blessing and inclusion in the reign of God.

Remember that in Jesus’ day, if you were sick or tormented, the general theory was that you had done something to deserve it. Personal illness and injury were the price you paid for making poor choices in your life, for disobeying cleanliness laws, or ignoring some religious regulations. You were poor, or sick, or abandoned, or destitute because you had lived badly. The position was not unlike today’s claims that women probably had abuse or assault coming to them, if they wore too short of a skirt or had too much to drink.

Jesus’ claim of blessing for those who have lost or have suffered turns that thinking upside down. Blessing, Jesus infers, comes not as a reward for living a life without fault or sorrow. Blessing comes as a gift to those living in a broken and sorrowful world. Blessing comes as grace to those who have been cast aside or abused by a world that favors the powerful and the privileged.

All Saints Day allows us to remember those who have gone before us, not in living perfectly, but in living in the light of God’s love and hope, living in the realm of God’s eternal forgiveness and acceptance.

The reward isn’t just for those who have died and finally experience life in heaven, either, but for all of us still on our journey. In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls those crowds blessed today, in the present tense. He recognizes their worth, their wholeness, their goodness, right there on the mountain. He claims them as sisters and brothers, in the present, children with him of the God of life.

David Lose of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia writes, “God’s kingdom is not some distant thing or place, but rather exists now, exerts its influence on us now, transforms our reality now. All Saints’…  is a repetition and rehearsal of the Easter promise that there is something more, something that transcends our immediate experience, and this proclamation is rooted in the confidence that God’s love and life are more powerful and enduring that (sic) the hate, disappointment, and death that seems at times to surround us[iv]

On All Saints Day we remember that we, too, are claimed as children of the resurrection. Today, once again, Jesus calls us from death to life, to life in which abuse, neglect, sorrow, illness, even death no longer have dominion over us. We no longer need to define ourselves as those who have been abused, or injured, or crushed by any of earth’s sorrows, but instead, we can claim ourselves as Saints of God, Even “Me Too.”

Today, Jesus invites us to lift up our heads and wake into the light of a new day — to live as redeemed and empowered saints of God. To rise, and remember well our future, to rejoice in the assurance that we already have a place in the Reign of God, where tears are wiped away, where sorrow and hunger and mourning are no  more, and where we will be guided to springs of everlasting life.

Again, a quote from Maya Angelou, whose beautiful poem, Still I Rise, sounds to me like an All Saints, Day hymn. She writes,

Still I rise.

You may write me down in history

with your bitter, twisted lies,

you may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

…. Just like moons and like suns,

with the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise….

I rise, I rise, I rise. I rise. [v].

Thanks be to God.  Amen

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22, 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

[i] The “#MeToo” movement was begun many years ago by Tarana Burke to describe the harassment and abuse of young women of color. See http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/17/us/me-too-tarana-burke-origin-trnd/index.html

[ii] Maya Angelou in Letter to My Daughter, 2009, http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/4062985-letter-to-my-daughter.

[iii] Matthew 4:23-25

[iv] David J. Lose, “All Saints A:  Preaching a Beatitudes Inversion,” … In the Meantime. November 1, 2017. http://www.davidlose.net/2017/11/all-saints-a-preaching-a-beatitudes-inversion/

[v] Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise,”  in Still I Rise, Random House,  1978.  http://www.famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/maya_angelou/poems/482